September 30, 2009 in Awayfinder destinations

Castlegar, Revelstoke offer unique looks at Canadian history

Museums and natural scenery abound
Carl Gidlund Awayfinder Correspondent
 
Carl Gidlund photo

The Selkirk Mountain range can be breathtaking, as seen from Revelstoke, British Columbia. This image was taken at the Hillcrest Hotel.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

It was a fall British Columbia golfing holiday for my wife Sally and me, but since you can’t play the game all day long, we had time to sightsee. We did both in Castlegar, and a lot more sightseeing in Revelstoke.

Castlegar, at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers, is 150 miles north of our Hayden Lake, Idaho, home, and Revelstoke, abutting Canadian Highway 1, is 150 miles north of Castlegar.

We got a late Sunday afternoon start, and since Castlegar was in between, it was a logical place to stop for the night.

Our tee time was at the Castlegar Golf Club at 9 the following morning, so we had a couple of late afternoon hours to explore.

The local visitors’ guide promised many attractions to choose from, including art, history and science galleries, wildlife viewing, museums, parks and hiking trails – we chose the Doukhobor Village Museum.

From previous trips, I knew the Doukhobors to be Russian immigrants, some of whom marched naked to protest government decisions. We learned more:

In the late 18th century, a Russian Orthodox bishop called a group of religious dissidents “doukho-bortsi,” meaning spirit wrestlers, suggesting that they were struggling against God’s spirit. The group adopted the name, explaining, “We wrestle with and for the spirit of God against those things which are evil.”

In 1895, about 7,000 Doukhobors destroyed their weapons in a stand for pacifism that angered the Czarist state and the Orthodox Church. Four years later, at the invitation of Canada, they migrated and formed agrarian communes.

Between 1908 and 1913, under the leadership of their “king,” Peter Verigin, 5,000 Doukhobors moved to the valley where Castlegar is situated.

Verigin was assassinated in 1924 by still-unknown killers, but by then sect members farmed nearly 72,000 acres, most in B.C., but also in Alberta and Saskatchewan. They built 90 villages similar to Castlegar’s Doukhobor Village Museum.

The museum, which the Doukhobors claim is an authentic reconstructed communal village, contains more than 1,000 artifacts representing arts, crafts, customs and religion. Displays include naturally-dyed fabrics made from hand-made linen, plus hemp and wool, tools and implements.

Some 20,000 to 40,000 descendents of these settlers remain in Canada; another 30,000 are in Russia and neighboring countries. Perhaps 5,000 are U.S. citizens, mostly in the north.

The next day, after golf, we left Castlegar and, after a beautiful drive between the Selkirk and Monashee mountains and short ferry ride across Upper Arrow Lake, we reached Revelstoke. That city offered plenty to do that day and in the time before our 11 a.m. tee time the following day, we explored.

Founded in 1885, Revelstoke takes its name from Edward Baring, Lord Revelstoke of the Bank of England, which provided the capital that permitted the Canadian Pacific Railroad to complete the construction which linked the rest of Canada to British Columbia.

Last winter, we visited several attractions here including a visual arts center, museums for fire service and city history, and the Nickelodeon Museum (with 100-plus mechanical music instruments).

We took a free bus for a 16-mile ride to an historic fire lookout 5,000 feet above town in Mount Revelstoke National Park. It was on the aptly-named Meadows in the Sky Parkway.

During this late summer trip, the ground was carpeted with wildflowers of a dozen pastel hues. At the top, nine paved trails branch out, and we took the Koo Koo Sint Trail for a leisurely stroll in the sub-alpine forest.

Back in town in the late afternoon, we enjoyed a free concert, one of which is offered every summer evening in the Grizzly Plaza across the street from Revelstoke’s visitors’ center.

We sat in front of the Roxy, built as a hardware store in 1902 and converted to a theatre in 1937. It’s the only movie theatre in town and, claims the management, and offers current pictures with state-of-the-art sound and seating.

After a scrumptious Japanese supper at Kawakubo, it was back to the Coast Hillcrest Resort Hotel on Highway 1.

Morning brought us back to the Main Street Café, another favorite. After our meal we talked with Shelley Gibson, owner and chief cook, who told us the building which houses the café was originally a home in 1899.

She said the Main Street Café, which offers breakfast and lunch, is a tourist haunt as well as a meeting place for locals.

Late in the afternoon following our game at the Revelstoke Golf Club we visited the B.C. Interior Forestry Museum, a 20-minute drive on Highway 23 North.

Lumber has been an important area industry since the 1880s, and the small museum contains tools and artifacts from earlier days to the present, including chain saws from the cumbersome machines of the 1930s to today’s lighter, efficient models.

Another interesting exhibit is the fire lookout at the museum. It’s built upside down from those I’ve visited in the States: The living quarters here are on the top floor and the fire-finding instrument is below.

Another museum we found worth visiting was in Revelstoke: the Revelstoke Railway Museum, which features a 1950s-style waiting room with benches and paintings from now-closed stations, a potbelly stove and ticket windows. Exhibits include models of snowsheds, trestles and tunnels, but the most impressive displays included a 1929-vintage passenger car that we wandered through, and a 1948-vintage steam locomotive

If you like stairs you’ll find a fine collection of vintage photographs and reproductions of station signs and mileage markers. There’s also a model railroad that all ages should enjoy.

An outside rolling stock exhibit includes a snowplow, caboose, repair car and flat car.

There’s something for just about everyone in Castlegar. We even found the Spice O’ Life Emporium which bills itself as “The most tasteful ‘sex shop’ in the West.”

Owner Dinah Collette said she’s been in business for 16 years, and her clientele is about 50 percent locals, and 50 percent visitors, all over 18 years old. She also sells costumes, lingerie, baggies, bongs and books.

Just before checking out of the Hillcrest Hotel, manager Norman Langlois gave us a final Revelstoke overview.

The area attracts about 16,000 visitors yearly, half during winter and half in summer. Austrians, Swiss and Germans make up about 60 percent of visitors, he said; most of the rest are from the U.S.

The greatest winter attraction is Revelstoke Mountain Resort where you can ski or board 9.5 miles, the longest run in North America. Until 2007, it was a smaller ski area called Powder Springs, but was popular with skiers wanting to explore the back country from “lifts” provided by snow cats and helicopters.

Tourism development has taken place since the 1980s, he said, when a downtown revitalization began to ensure it is visitor-friendly.

There are about 800 beds available, including B&Bs, motels, resorts, hotels and hostels. Hillcrest boasts 140 of those beds, and Langlois claims a 90 percent occupancy rate each year.

For additional information on the area, visit www.seerevelstoke.com or phone 800-487-1493.


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